A Second Chance
Juvenile Delinquency Swells in Latin America
"Poverty is the parent of revolution and crime." -Aristotle
You already know juvenile delinquency is present in the United States but in Latin America it has reached dramatic proportions: almost a third of the population between the ages of 15 and 19 drops out of school and cannot find a steady job.
The rise of the drug markets and the availability of guns have facilitated the growth of violence, which is also ingrained in the Latin American culture because of its history of brutal political dictatorships and their consequences: poverty, inequality, social tensions. Trying to find compensation by all means, young people often resort to crime and join gangs. Money is not the only motivation: Youth are trying to find a sense of recognition and belonging denied by their families and communities, and they want to take revenge for the unfairness of their miserable living conditions.
"State Parties recognize that every child has the inherent right to life." -UN Convention on the Rights of the Child
Parents, friends, teachers, counselors have talked to you about making the right or the wrong choices in life. It is hard to comprehend but, unfortunately, true that a lot of young people in the poorest and most vulnerable neighborhoods in Latin America have sometimes no choice but to join and work for a gang. They are coerced and threatened by death and enter the world of crime just to survive and, if caught, enter the harsh world of penitentiaries and prisons.
"Restorative justice is an approach to crime ... that focuses on repairing harm." -Howard Zehr
Non-governmental international organizations such as UNICEF, TERRE DES HOMMES, and THE TUTATOR FOUNDATION are very concerned by the rise of criminality among the young and are trying to engage with the national and local authorities to provide restorative justice for minors in Central and South America. Restorative justice means to rehabilitate and reintegrate young offenders into society instead of locking them up in dreadful prisons. Those alternative punishments include professional training, guidance and counseling, placement in nurturing foster homes, all closely monitored and supervised. The work and time requested from the minor will be in accordance with the gravity of the fault and the main goal is to make up for the wrong done, to somehow compensate the victims.
"And that is how change happens. One gesture. One person. One moment at a time." -Libba Ray
As a teen, if you would like to help, international volunteering is the most impactful way to do it: for example in Chile VE Global (Voluntarios de la Esperanza), in Nicaragua E L I (Experiential Learning International), in El Salvador Travel to Teach, in Guatemala CCS (Cross-Cultural Solutions). The education of the youngest at social risk is an essential factor in the prevention of delinquency and crime.
Some heart-wrenching stories and stunning facts:
- Maria Full of Grace (DVD)
- She Thief by Daniel Finn
- Out of War: True Stories From the Front Lines of the Children's Movement for Peace in Colombia
- Frequently Asked Questions About Gangs and Urban Violence by Ann Byers
- A World of Gangs: Armed young Men and Gangsta Culture by John M. Hagedorn
- Jóvenes, Grupos y Violencia : de las tribus urbanas a las bandas latinas by Bárbara Scandoglio
- Chronicle of a Myth Foretold: The Washington Consensus in Latin America
Quien aflige mas al afligido, tendra su castigo: He that hurts another hurts himself.
Photo credit: Eugenio del Bosque
Jocelyne C. is an extra-help Library Assistant who works at several SMCL branches. Together with her family she has traveled extensively in Central America.